Horizon Air flights to and from Seattle airport are canceled as 5G grounded regional planes

SEATTLE – As Paine Field in Everett was shrouded in fog Monday, Alaska Air regional carrier Horizon Air was forced to cancel all commercial flights to and from the airport due to low-visibility flying restrictions imposed to avoid 5G interference. prevent.

Some Tuesday flights were also cancelled.

Horizon is currently the only airline operating commercial flights from Paine Field, and all of those flights are flown on the Embraer E175, a 76-seat regional jet.

The restrictions imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration to prevent interference with cockpit instruments have created a problem specific to that aircraft and certain airports, including Paine Field and Portland International Airport.

A dozen arriving flights and a dozen departing flights were canceled Monday at Paine Field, affecting many hundreds of passengers, said Joe Sprague, president at Horizon Air.

“We’ve tried some accommodations by bringing people to Sea-Tac,” Sprague said. “Of course it’s disruptive no matter what, and there’s no guarantee anyone could get on a comparable flight from Sea-Tac.”

The Portland airport visibility was better Monday and so there were no cancellations. But Portland can be similarly affected when the weather worsens, Sprague said.

“We rely heavily on what the weather does,” says Sprague. “And of course in the Pacific Northwest, especially this time of year, that’s quite a wild card.”

The new, more powerful 5G radio signals turned on last week in cell towers across the country could potentially interfere with an instrument called an altimeter, which is used to measure exactly how high a plane is above the ground. That data is fed into other systems and a wrong reading could endanger the aircraft.

Last week, Verizon and AT&T agreed to temporarily delay turning on some cell towers near major airports. The FAA then conducted a plane-by-airport analysis and allowed many planes to fly in poor visibility, including all Boeing and Airbus jets at most airports in the country.

[FAA clears most big jets to land at Sea-Tac Airport amid 5G rollouts]

Whether the FAA granted permission depended on which model of altimeter was installed on each aircraft, as well as how close the cell towers at each airport were to the runways.

The altimeters on Horizon’s Q400 turboprop planes — supplied by Collins — allowed those planes to be cleared everywhere. But Sprague said the Honeywell-specific altimeter on the E175 jet required airport-specific restrictions.

“The configuration of the Honeywell radio altimeter in the E175, and how it integrates with the other aircraft systems on the E175, is such that the potential for interference from the 5G signal is higher,” said Sprague.

The FAA therefore authorized the E175 to use only runways further away from the cell towers.

While the E175 was not allowed to use one runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, it was cleared for the runway there most used for low visibility conditions. That “effectively gave us good coverage for Sea-Tac,” Sprague said.

But the E175 was completely barred from low-visibility flying at both Paine Field and Portland International.

The restrictions apply not only to Horizon, but also to regional airlines such as SkyWest operating local regional flights on behalf of all major airlines. Some airports in California and across the country have similar restrictions on E175 flights.

Flights from Paine Field fly to larger vacation destinations, such as Phoenix and Palm Springs. But Portland is a hub for Alaska, and Sprague said if the city misses in the coming days, the impact will be greater.

“We fly to Eugene and Spokane and places in Montana nonstop from Portland,” he said. “Small community service can also be impacted by a hub like Portland feeling these effects.”

Horizon operates about 300 flights per day, of which about 135 are on the E175 aircraft.

How this problem will be resolved is unclear, Sprague said.

It is possible that the FAA’s modeling of the potential interference impact can be adjusted based on additional information from the telecom companies about cell tower placement and signal strength.

Or the wireless companies can agree to turn off or reduce power at more cell towers.

On the likelihood of that happening, Sprague said, “I just don’t have a good feeling about the telecommunications company’s willingness to do this.”

In the meantime, passengers flying on E175s from those airports should check their flight status before departing for the airport.

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